Updated: May 5
Have you ever sat in a meeting either as a foodservice operator or manufacturer and realized that it was a complete waste of your time? This can be extremely frustrating and a waste of resources for all parties involved. Maybe you were told to have the meeting because your CEOs know each other, or there was some other existing relationship that shoehorned the meeting into your calendar. The supplier is reaching to make a fit, and it’s also clear they don’t understand the operator’s brand or operations.
“Spray and Pray” is not a winning strategy
Many times, when we start discussing foodservice strategy with clients, we hear them say they think their product would be perfect for a particular chain, or even that it really has a fit in every chain! This is usually indicative that they don’t understand their value proposition, or what they can do that is better or different from their competitors. Why should the customer choose them? It’s highly unlikely that their product fits into all the top 100 foodservice chains and that everyone could use it. Just think about the variables of operating models, menu styles, value orientation versus premium products, brand stories and equities. There are too many differences to blindly think your product fits everywhere.
This type of thinking normally leads to a goal of getting as many meetings as possible. As a strategy consultant in this business, I can tell you that working to get tons of meetings without first developing a sound strategy and strong presentation is a waste of your resources. Additionally, it could potentially turn off a customer who actually would be a perfect fit! If your strategy is to “spray and pray” by meeting with as many people as possible and making it a numbers game only, you will most likely fail, and in the process turn off future customers whose time you wasted.
So how do you avoid the “spray and pray” approach? You must have a list of prioritized, qualified customers who fit your product line and more importantly, your value proposition. This should be part of your overall comprehensive foodservice strategy. If you haven’t spent time to really understand why your customers should choose you over your competition, it should start there. Once you’ve done that, you can better score potential targets for fit. Then you’ll need to understand the gaps you have in terms of resources and programs to properly present to and service these ideal customers.
What if I am an operator or chain - how do I know who to meet with?
As a foodservice operator, you must be careful not to shut down presentations before you know whether a vendor has a product or service that could be of value. Yes, you are busy, and this takes some effort on your part, but if you only stay with what is easy and expect innovation only from your existing suppliers you may be missing out on some big wins.
A strategy is equally as important for brands as it is for manufacturers. Menu strategy helps focus innovation and product development on incremental, next-generation, or even transformational ideas that fit your construct. In my leadership roles as head of innovation and R&D at major brands, having a strong menu strategy based in consumer insights and an understanding of the brand was extremely important. Everything can stem from this to create the most value out of your innovation pipeline.
Your suppliers can help you innovate and fill your pipeline if you can do a good job articulating your goals and strategies. You must know your desired target customers and occasions, where you are looking to grow without alienating your existing customer base, and which menu categories you want to “win big” in so you can focus your innovation there. In a way, it’s very similar to the value proposition mentioned above that is important to manufacturers. If you get stuck only in innovating on a category basis you will miss out on the big wins.
The Discovery Meeting
One simple approach from both sides can be to offer a discovery meeting. This is a 20–30 minute meeting with the most relevant person or internal coach from the brand, and one or two people from the manufacturer. Ideally, the manufacturer has done most of the work in advance of this meeting to qualify the brand for fit, as described above across menu, operations, consumer, etc. You can discuss top-line the value proposition and most importantly ask question of the operator on their key strategies and goals.
The operator should keep an open mind to really try and understand the manufacturer’s unique points of differentiation and whether they could be of value to the brand now or in the future. At the same time, you need to be honest if it is truly not a fit; just don’t make this the default answer. Remember, if your job is to drive your brand forward with relevant and on-trend knowledge and innovation, you need to have these conversations with new suppliers! From there, if you feel it potentially could be a fit, you can be the one to help coach them on the most effective first presentation to a larger group within the company.
Whether a manufacturer or a brand, be sure to build a robust foodservice market or menu strategy with your internal team to dial-in your effectiveness in partnerships. Or reach out to us at Cutting Edge Innovation if you think you may need some independent strategic thinking.